Tag Archive | childrens miracle network

Contestant #16

‘Mental health is as important as physical health. Please reach out to someone if you need help. You are not alone and you are worth so much ❤’ 

Posted by Kaelia Nelson, August 17, 2017.

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Right now, 15 young women are taking part in rehearsals at North Platte High School, hoping to be crowned the next Miss Nebraska. An important piece is missing from the Class of 2018.

Kaelia

Her name: Kaelia Nelson, crowned Miss Chadron 2018 on September 9.

“Extremely excited for the year ahead as your Miss Chadron 2018,” she shared just days after she won the title. Just weeks later, Kaelia began classes at Peru State College and jumped right into her active scheduled as a collegiate cheerleader and local Miss Nebraska titleholder.

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“Last weekend I had the opportunity to perform a dance in honor of all the men and women who have risked their lives for us to live in this amazing country,” said Kaelia. “I feel absolutely honored to have been in the same room as so many of these wonderful and brave individuals. Thank you for your service. ❤️💙🇺🇸”

October 15, Kaelia got all dolled up for a photo shoot, courtesy of a new sponsor for the Miss Chadron program.

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“Thank you so much to the wonderful Heidi Barnes for donating a photo shoot for us title holders,” said Kaelia. “I can’t wait to see how they turned out!”

Two weeks after Kaelia posted this, she took her own life.

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In the days that immediately followed Kaelia’s death, I reached out to her mom to offer our condolences and any support the Miss Nebraska Organization could provide. Her mother said to me that day ‘we really thought that someday she was going to be Miss Nebraska.’

For good reason. Kaelia was 1st Runner Up to Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen in 2012. She was named Nebraska’s Homecoming Queen, finishing 3rd in the country in 2015. She had a natural gift for dance and performance, a Gold Rush Dance Team member at Nebraska Wesleyan before transferring to Peru State, where she was a cheer squad flyer. She was a caring advocate for children, setting the 2017 Miss Nebraska record for fundraising for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, and she planned to become a teacher. She was kind, charismatic, talented and driven.

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Behind the smile, the light that seemed to impact everyone she touched, Kaelia also battled darkness in the form of mental illness. Ironically, this was the very cause she so passionately spread awareness of as a Miss Nebraska titleholder: Stomping The Stigma.

“I live with anxiety, depression, bipolar and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD),” Kaelia told me last Spring. “People are afraid to step forward and admit to having a mental illness because society has made it such a taboo thing to the point where people are afraid to even talk about it.”

Kaelia school

Kaelia took her message everywhere: to elementary schools, across college campuses and organizations, and to local media. She opened herself up to connect with others, sharing personal details about her own battle and even revealing she had attempted to commit suicide in June 2016.

“I felt extremely alone and hopeless in the battle against my own illnesses,” Kaelia told me. “Individuals are scared of what people may think of them and therefore, do not seek treatment.  The consequences can be life threatening.  I never want anyone else to feel alone or ashamed like I did, especially not for something they cannot control.  This is why I have made it my mission to speak out and share my story in hopes that people will see and understand that it can happen to anyone and it definitely not something to be ashamed of.”

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YOU ARE NEVER ALONE. Here is proof, through Kaelia herself.

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More than 107,000 people impacted in some way by news of Kaelia’s death. 435 people shared this, most using Kaelia’s message #StompingTheStigma. More than 1,100 people who GRIEVED, who are hurting, who suffered because of this loss.

YOU MATTER.

YOU ARE LOVED.

YOU MAKE LIFE BETTER FOR SOMEONE ELSE IN THIS WORLD.

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Girls with Kaelia

This week, the Miss Nebraska Organization will honor the life of Kaelia Nelson, and the impact she had on others through her powerful message of mental health awareness. All contestants are wearing #StompingTheStigma shirts during rehearsals and sharing across their social media. For the first time, we will present a Kaelia Nelson Memorial Spirit Award. News outlets across the state have shared her story to compel others to seek help for themselves or their loved ones. CLICK HERE to watch KETV’s special feature on Kaelia; CLICK HERE to read the special feature in the North Platte Telegraph.

Kaelia should be up on that stage rehearsing. She should be preparing to share her talent in front of a roaring crowd, ready to walk across the stage with her radiant smile, waving to her mom and family.

Kaelia dance

To anyone reading this, remember Kaelia. Remember her message. Think of her family, her friends, and all who loved her – and then think of everyone who loves YOU. Help us keep #StompingTheStigma.

“I would absolutely love to win Miss Nebraska and get to represent this amazing state, but my main goal isn’t about the crown on my head,” Kaelia told me.  “Instead, it’s the message I have to share and the people I get to meet because of it. It’s what you set your mind and heart to that will count in the long run.”

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Kaelia, we miss you, and we pray you have found peace.

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Click here to read more from Kaelia herself.

The National Suicide Hotline is available 24/7, 365 days a year. Always listening, never judging, confidential. Text CONNECT to 741741.

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The Miss Nebraska Scholarship Competition takes place June 7-9 in North Platte, Nebraska.

 

 

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Facebook

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Scotts Bluff County Brianna Little

COMING SOON.. Miss Nebraska 2017 Allison Tietjen

Be Kind

This has been one of those years that make you question everything.

Parkland. Santa Fe. Kentucky.

As our country mourned, debated and prayed over school shootings and tragedies repeatedly happening across America, students and in some cases, teachers, walked out of class to protest the violence, demanding change.

Did it make a difference? I’m not sure. I don’t think I’m alone in believing there were many kids who walked out that didn’t fully understand what or why they were protesting.. but simply wanted to get out of class.

At Westside Community Schools, building leaders and staff members tried something different.. they encouraged students to take action with clear and well-thought out plans to enact change, not only outside our schools, but INSIDE them. Westside High students staged a sit-in; they lined the hallways with posters, signs and silence not only paying tribute to the victims lost, but spreading awareness to each other  about violence and to anyone who saw photos and videos of their event. Westside Middle School took this a step further, planning an entire week of activities promoting Safer Schools.

Organized by Student Council members, students created and sold T-shirts uniting their student body and benefitting their school. They made posters reminding each other to report problems and concerns, and they gathered together for an emotional assembly with a resounding message: KINDNESS MATTERS.

That was the theme of their week – to simply be kind to one another. Love always wins. That spirit of brotherhood and respect was palpable during the final assembly wrapping up their Safer Schools week.

It’s the same mentality that has compelled a young woman from western Nebraska to accumulate more than 1,000 hours of time serving others here, and around the world.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“We need to accept people for who they are and embrace their uniqueness,” said Brianna Little, crowned Miss Scotts Bluff County last summer. “My platform is Be Kind, Be The Change, bringing acts of inclusion, acceptance and kindness into our daily lives.”

Brianna is no stranger to service, an active member of her community for the last several years as a teen titleholder in the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program. However, she credits a trip to Nicaragua last summer as a key turning point in her mission as both a Miss Nebraska contestant, and a human being.

“I not only was made aware of the need in the world, but I saw just how grateful someone could be for the things we take for granted,” said Brianna. “When a young child, not even school age, runs up to you, dirty bowl in hand begging for beans with big, hopeful eyes, or when a mother will take any clothing you have to offer for her child, your view of the world will change the way mine did.”

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Brianna continued that mission when she returned home to Harrisburg, Nebraska, working to deliver meals to those in need throughout her community. She’s also volunteered with the Salvation Army, hospital patients, and the Special Olympics. Still, she wanted to do more.

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“I got and talk to schools about the importance of being kind to one another, and creating kindness challenges for them,” said Brianna. “Intertwining my platform with the national Miss America Organization partner, one of the first challenges I present is for the kids to collet coins for the Children’s Miracle Network. I speak with other local organizations such as our Scottsbluff Kiwanis Club about my platform. Whenever I volunteer or make an appearance, I also give away shirts, lanyards, bracelets and chapsticks with the Be Kind, Be The Change logo to remind people to always remember they, too, can be the change.”

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Brianna, a Summa Cum Laude graduate of Scottsbluff High School who has already earned an astonishing 51 college credits, notes the facts and statistics that back up the impact movements like her platform can have.. and the problems we all see in society without this work.

“The biggest issue facing my generation is self image,” said Brianna. “There are so many expectations for kids and teens that are both mentally and physically exhausting. There always seems to be something about yourself that needs change, from outward appearance to how to act. 20% of kids and teens in any given year will experience depression. 14% will at least consider suicide. 8% will make an actual attempt on their life. This is one of the many reasons why my platform is so tremendously needed. As a society, we need to change how we view the world and treat people.”

 

 

Reinforcing Brianna’s message are the connections and friendships she’s made by being part of the Miss Nebraska Organization.

Brianna

“The girls are amazing, kind and very likeminded,” said Brianna. “When they say it’s a sisterhood, it’s true. No matter what happens, I will have spent countless hours with some of the most wonderful women across Nebraska.”

Maya Angelou once said ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’

Brianna Little shows through her words and actions she is brilliant, driven and determined. She is an award-winning cheerleader, a future University of Nebraska-Lincoln college student who hopes to become a Maternal Fetal Medicine Obstetrician. People certainly see the impact she’s having already, named just this week as a 2018 Miss Nebraska Community Service Award finalist.

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Photo courtesy Kamie Stephen Photography

Still, she hopes she’s remembered for KINDNESS. For making people feel better about themselves and the world around them, and for paying that powerful feeling forward to impact change in others.

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Photo courtesy Timmy James Photo

“Knowing just how much of an impact I can make is the sole reason I pursued the title of Miss Nebraska 2018 and wanted to be part of this,” said Brianna. “Beyond the title, I want to show everyone what I stand for and share my message. I hope to inspire people to push the limits of their capabilities and always reach ahead of them to the next great thing awaiting in life. For me, if that is the title of Miss Nebraska, I will be thrilled and ready to represent my state sharing my platform.”

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To follow Scotts Bluff County Brianna Little click here.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT BRIANNA?

CLICK HERE * 2017 * Energizer Bunny

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Bring It On

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The Miss Nebraska Scholarship Competition takes place June 7-9 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Facebook

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Alliance Kodi Baumann

COMING SOON.. Miss Chadron Kaelia Nelson

Your Best Yes

Choose your best yes.

I was blessed this week to be part of a Gallup summit thanks to my great employer, Westside Community Schools. In this day long learning event, we discussed our own personal strengths, and how we can say yes to everything… but in doing that, there’s no way we can be GREAT at anything. Choose your best YES – what are the things you should say yes to, to bring out your best traits and therefore, have the best impact upon others and the world around us?

This is the year Kodi Baumann said her best yes was to work to become Miss Nebraska.

Kodi Baumann - Miss Alliance

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

Kodi is 23, a Chadron, Nebraska native currently serving as Miss Alliance 2018. She started competing in the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen program at just 13 years old, and has already competed twice at the Miss Nebraska Pageant. As Miss Chadron 2014, she thought she was done.

“That year, I experienced so much and made so many friends,” said Kodi. “Unfortunately, I realized that I was not at a place in my life that I could give attention to the title it deserved. Fast forward three years later and I know my heart and determination are in the right place to do the title of Miss Nebraska justice.”

 

 

Flashback to November 2017. I, along with many others, had been hoping to convince Kodi to once again, compete for a Miss Nebraska local title. Her voice is breathtaking, her smile is unforgettable, her spirit is infectious. Still, Kodi herself had her doubts, memories she now uses as fuel for her fire.

Kodi Rugby

“I have always struggled with body image, but this year, I am not looking at it as an obstacle,” said Kodi, pictured above after playing competitive rugby with her teammates. “I am taking this on as a challenge to better myself. I am not allowing the scale to define my success. I am focused on becoming stronger.”

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HELL YES, KODI, HELL YES.

Between November and February, Kodi lost an astonishing 25 pounds by taking part in boot camp classes. ‘Strong is the new skinny’, she posted. And PS – that mentality and drive will serve Kodi, and ALL of us, very well. She’s a recent Criminal Justice graduate at Chadron State College, planning on a career in law enforcement. AKA – all that muscle will come in VERY handy taking down bad guys.

Tell me again ‘what type’ of girls compete in pageants.

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“Service lines up with my interest in Law Enforcement,” said Kodi. “Just look at the side of any police car. Protect and Serve. I have always enjoyed giving of myself; it doesn’t matter if it is collecting warm winter clothing, supplies for Doves recipients, raising awareness of our servicemen and women, or sharing my passion for seatbelt use to keep my community safe.”

That final mission is Kodi’s platform of service as Miss Alliance, one that she’s advocated for for several years now, is ‘Fasten Your Seat Belt! Cross Your Heart, Not Your Fingers.’

Kodi platform

“I founded my platform nine years ago after my brother’s accident where he almost lost his life,” said Kodi. “I wanted to share the importance of buckling up and stress that your choice to wear a seatbelt not only affects you, but your loved ones. I wanted to make sure my platform was something I would continue to advocate for once I was done competing in pageants. By choosing a platform so closely related to law enforcement, I know I will continue to spread awareness throughout my lifetime.”

Kodi’s best yes was to amplify her message for an important cause. That yes also opened doors to connect with others, personally confronting one of the biggest issues Kodi feels is facing her generation and more; a lack of face to face interaction, networking and productive communication.

“I’m gaining confidence; I’ll walk into an interview with five judges and am gaining the qualities employers are looking for,” said Kodi. “Successful people are goal oriented. This organizations helps set goals and work to achieve them. I’m also a team player. The sisterhood that this organization creates can be so strong. Many of support one another at events, building our ability of networking and creating lifelong friendships.”

THAT is what ultimately convinced Kodi to say yes one more time: friendships, a very special one in particular.

Kodi & Kaelia

“I decided to compete because the Miss Alliance Pageant was being held in honor of my friend, Kaelia Shae Nelson, the reigning Miss Alliance 2017 and current Miss Chadron 2018,” said Kodi. “Kaelia was struggling with depression and took her own life. The loss of such a talented and passionate individual made me realize how fleeting life really is and I decided I would embrace her motto, Stomping the Stigma, and enter despite all my own internal battles with not being what society holds as pageant material. I wanted to honor our friendship and her memory.”

Kaelia crowned

Choose your best yes. Kodi said ‘yes’ in 2014, and will be the first to tell you it wasn’t her BEST yes. Now, her yes honors a friend. Her yes is highlighting, strengthening her talents and gifts.  Her yes brings her closer to achieving her goals in both her community and for her future career.

Kodi Baumann knows THIS is her best yes, and she’s ready to compete for  the title of Miss Nebraska.

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‘As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, and the other for helping others.’ Audrey Hepburn,” said Kodi. “My ultimate goal is to walk away with the title and serve my state for a year, sharing my platform and advocating for Children’s Miracle Network. I know that I am prepared to the best of my ability and will put my best foot forward. I feel blessed to represent the Panhandle of Nebraska, where I call home, and will do everything I can to make them proud.”

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To follow Miss Alliance Kodi Lee Baumann, click here

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT KODI?

CLICK HERE * 2014* If Nebraska Had An Ocean

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The Miss Nebraska Scholarship Competition takes place June 7-9 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Facebook

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Old West Balloon Fest Makinzie Gregory

NEXT.. Miss Scotts Bluff County Brianna Little

Just a Number

‘Age is something that doesn’t matter, unless you are a cheese.’ – Luis Bunuel

I kind of think that’s hilarious… and darn true. How much does age truly impact what we are capable of? As a journalist, I shared stories about octogenarians running marathons and toddlers belting our national anthem… on the flipside, I often saw/see people aged years and more because of smoking, pessimism, or sometimes, life’s hard knocks. How much of us is because of the number of rings around our trunks.. and how much is because of our gifts, hard work, and attitude about what we WANT to accomplish?

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Photo courtesy GlamCheck.com

At 17 years old, Teresa Scanlan was the youngest Miss Nebraska we have on record. 6 months later, she became the youngest Miss America in 80+ years. She had just graduated high school months earlier, had only gotten her driver’s license less than 2 years prior, and now she was set to travel the world representing our program and country. How did a 17-year old become Miss America??

Answer: CLICK HERE. Watch Teresa’s post-Miss America crowning-press conference. She is articulate. Intelligent. Confident. Charming. And the fact that she was 17 doesn’t take away from any of those impressive qualities, it catapults each of them ten-fold; these skills were natural, instinctual, and this teen/woman was something incredibly special.

Less than one year ago, Teresa congratulated another 17-year old, hoping to follow in her footsteps.

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Photo courtesy Timmy James Photo

Her name is Makinzie Gregory, crowned Miss Old West Balloon Fest before she even started her senior year of high school.

“The Scotts Bluff County Pageant, where I won my title, was actually the very first pageant I had ever entered, so to actually win seemed like a dream!” said Makinzie. “I told one of the girls backstage that I would LOVE to get a picture with Teresa, my female role model. Sometimes I wonder about God’s sense of humor because I did indeed get a picture with Teresa – presenting me the award in her name!”

 

 

Makinzie says she admires Teresa because she is articulate, kind and genuine, the epitome of strength and empathy. For the last year (likely longer), Makinzie has also worked to show those same characteristics as a Miss Nebraska local titleholder.

“Being a spiritual person, I believe in what the Bible has to say about service,” said Makinzie. “We should all serve one another, no matter the circumstances.”

Makinzie is channeling that mission through her personal platform: Different-Abled, Educating, Empowering, and Equipping the Special Needs.

“My presentations to the three elementary schools in my school district are definitely some of the highlights for this year!” said Makinzie. “I hosted a change drive in conjunction with my presentations, and we raised $2400 that has been donated to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals! I adore the kiddos wanting to take pictures, asking tons of questions, being shy, and acting goofy. Furthermore, it inspires me to know that I have the unique opportunity to impact these kids and act as a positive role model for them.”

Makinzie’s message is personal; the Gering High School valedictorian plans to pursue degrees in Elementary Education, specializing in serving children with special needs. She’s partnered with the United Way and volunteers with Buckboard Therapeutic Riding Academy. In both roles, Makinzie is working to learn the office work, marketing, event planning and presentation skills, to best advocate for this cause as it relates to families, government, and the business world.

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“I would like to either obtain my Master’s degree in either education, special education, or school administration to further influence the direction of younger generations,” said Makinzie.

She’s got a great start, scoring a perfect 36 on part of her ACT exam, and potentially earning Miss Nebraska college scholarships at her chosen schools: Western Nebraska Community College and Chadron State.

Makinzie Gregory - Miss Old West Balloon Fest

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“Most of the people I talk to are shocked by just how many opportunities for growth, scholarship and networking connections Miss Nebraska titleholders are exposed to,” said Makinzie. “One of my favorites is the growth I have witnessed in myself in only these past few months. I cannot even put into words how much I have learned and gained through my involvement in this organization.”

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“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” – Unknown

The lesson we can all learn from women like Makinzie and Teresa, is to not let age define us. YOU define you. Maybe it’s a pageant. Maybe it’s a marathon. Maybe it’s a new love, a new job, a new adventure. Be vibrant. Be hungry. Take no prisoners, and see what happens, no matter what stage of your life. Makinzie Gregory may be one of the youngest women this year competing for Miss Nebraska… and she’s proud of it.

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Photo courtesy Timmy James Photo

“I realized that if I didn’t compete, I would be constantly asking myself, ‘why?’,” said Makinzie. “My goal is to be able to see God’s work in everything. This is worth so much more than just an ‘experience’, as I have learned and gained so much for my short time as a titleholder. For that, I am extremely grateful.”

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To follow Miss Old West Balloon Fest Makinzie Gregory, click here.

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The Miss Nebraska Scholarship Competition takes place June 7-9 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Facebook

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Omaha Allie Swanson

COMING SOON.. Miss Alliance Kodi Baumann

Priceless

I just shared a jaw-dropping stat across social media:

This year, we will award a record-breaking $70,000 in cash, gifts and services to Miss Nebraska contestants, PLUS we will offer more than $1.4 MILLION in college scholarships!!!

That’s not a typo. $70,000. $1.4 million.

There are so many great things about participating in this program, that huge scholarship and prize haul being one of them! But more often than not, when new young women try a Miss Nebraska local pageant, we learn it’s the intangibles that drew them to compete.

Hayden Richardson was inspired by a friend and sorority sister, leading by example.

Hayden Richardson - Miss Twin Rivers

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“I had seen how Allie Tietjen had thrived in the system,” Hayden told me. “She is my role model because she is the most positive and compassionate woman I have ever met. As a sister in Alpha Phi as well as a dear friend of mine, I have seen all sides of her and her bubbly personality is so authentic, whether she in in pajamas or in crown and sash, she is true to herself.”

At 19 years old, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln student decided to give this pageant thing a go, too.. and won the title of Miss Twin Rivers on her first try. Her friend, Allison, aka Miss Nebraska 2017, was at her side to crown her.

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“I could not think of a better way to improve as an individual than to partake in something that has made Allie the strong woman she is.”

Allison won the Miss Nebraska Community Service Award in 2017. Hayden immediately followed suit, setting a goal to hit the ground running with a platform targeting a crisis spreading throughout Nebraska and beyond.”My platform is based on child trafficking in the state of Nebraska,” said Hayden. “I am focused on raising awareness of the issue, educating school faculty, and creating positive self image with our students. I have partnered with the Nebraska Coalition Against Human Trafficking, in which I have been able to speak to differing groups, from schools to girl scout troupes, advocating for each different aspect.”

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“Service is absolutely the most important part of the Miss America crown to me,” said Hayden. “My goal as Miss Nebraska is to have 10,000 children and community members hear my message. In spreading awareness of human trafficking and helping to reduce the risk factors, my goal is to change the lives of children that may have fallen victim.”

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Hayden’s goals are not exclusive to winning that Miss Nebraska crown. The self described ‘political science geek’ plans to someday become a lawyer.

“I want to pursue a life rooted in the advancement of human rights laws on the nonprofit side,” said Hayden, who is currently working for Nebraska State Senator Kate Bolz. “Later down the road, I wish to run for the House of Representatives to advance my message and serve my state and country. The Miss Nebraska Organization is allowing me the opportunity to begin my work now as a freshman in college to advance the knowledge of human trafficking here in Nebraska, as well as giving me the life skills necessary to work in an adverse field.”

And like so many other contestants this year and for years prior, this outlet is also an opportunity for Hayden to showcase her other talents and improve every aspect of herself creatively, mentally and physically. As a national-level competitive cheerleader and dancer, Hayden has found new stages to perform. As a 2012 Nebraska Gymnastics Championships competitor, she’s found new reasons to continue a focus on physical health and wellness.

“Miss Nebraska is essential to the state because it provides the role models for young girls across Nebraska,” said Hayden. “As a public servant, Miss Nebraska educates and inspires our youth to be the best they can be. It is so important to continue that.”

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Just as Miss Nebraska Allison Tietjen inspired Hayden, she now hopes to inspire others. Little girls in her hometown of Bennington are now watching not only Hayden, but newly crowned Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Kelsie Therkildsen. And early next month, just one day before she leaves for her own state competition, Hayden will invite many those children to join her and directly make a difference in the lives of other Omaha kids.

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In the end, that’s what so many women like Hayden, and Allison, and myself, recall most about being part of the Miss Nebraska Organization. The money is AWESOME to help pay for school. The opportunities to perform and shine are empowering. But the impact you can have on your community and world around you thanks to a little extra notoriety in a ‘Miss So and So’ title…. those memories are priceless.

“The best part of this has been interacting with my community,” said Hayden. “I have made so many more connections than I would have ever been able to without the Miss Nebraska system. This  It gives us a way to voice who we are as women, and further develops our sense of self.”

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To follow Miss Twin Rivers Hayden Richardson, click here.

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The Miss Nebraska Scholarship Competition takes place June 7-9 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Facebook

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Panhandle 2018 Emily Curtis

NEXT.. Miss Star City 2018 Allison Baird

 

What Is Your Gift?

I sat down with my husband, who asked our daily, evening question: ‘how was your day?’

“GREAT.” I responded.

“Wow, great?” he said. And reasonably so; usually my response (and his) is the standard, ‘it was fine.’

No, this day was truly great. I explained to him why; the sun was shining, it was a glorious 80-degrees, I got a ton of work done heading into the weekend, a neighbor told me ‘have you lost weight?’, I was looking forward to softball with our team of friends, and I picked up two happy boys who, while my husband and I enjoyed a peaceful dinner together, were happily playing with the other little boys on our street.

“And,” I added, “we have a GREAT story airing Sunday on KETV!”

That final element was how I ended my work day, and it had me nothing short of giddy.

We have an extraordinary little boy at Westbrook Elementary. He is able to take what he sees in his mind, sheer joy through color and character, and share that with the world through crayons and paper. Everyone, from his fellow students to his teachers, are in awe of what Jesus can create. Jesus also has autism; he doesn’t have many words, but he’s very clear that if his work is not perfect, it belongs in the trash can. All year long, a wonderful Educational Assistant who works with Jesus has saved all of his art, often taping it back together, flattening it out, and laminating it, to save for his parents.

This story is simply beautiful; there are no other words for it. Both in Jesus’s incredible talent, and what he brings out in others. I was in tears as Jesus’s mother, Anaceli, told KETV’s Camila Orti, ‘I am thankful God has given Jesus these gifts.’ And through Jesus, we also see the gift of utter thoughtfulness in his teacher, the gift of compassion and eternal support from his principal… the list goes on.

Author R.J. Palicio writes in his book ‘Wonder’: “No one is great at everything, but everyone is great at something.” It’s a belief at the very core of a young woman from Scribner, Nebraska, graduating today from Wayne State College with a degree in Special Education.

Brooke Lodl - Miss Heartland

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“We can all achieve whatever we put our minds to, but we all have different paths in getting there,” said Brooke Lodl. “One of my nephews suffered a traumatic brain injury at 7 years old and was just recently diagnosed with Autism. Once you label a child with something (Autism, Down Syndrome, Emotional Disturbance, etc.), the world decides to look at them as though they are broken. I fight everyday to make sure my nephew lives the fullest life he can and that the world sees him for his abilities, not his disabilities.”

 

 

Brooke, who will begin her teaching career in the fall as a Special Education teacher in Norfolk, is spreading that same message as Miss Heartland 2018. As she prepares to compete next month to become Miss Nebraska, she is also advocating for children and adults with special needs, dubbing her platform ‘Taking the (Dis) Out of (Dis)Ability.’

“The whole reason I started this pageantry journey was to make a difference, and by serving the special abilities community I am shining a spotlight onto this world and holding the microphone for all of their stories,” said Brooke. “Giving back to a community that has been marginalized and oppressed throughout history is the greatest feeling I have ever felt and I’m hoping to set an example for [others] to do the same.”

“I am promoting this platform and idea by volunteering at various events that highlight the exceptional abilities of these individuals, speaking about kindness at elementary schools, and teaching students how to embrace being an advocate,” said Brooke. “The root cause of continually seeing someone as ‘disabled’ is not seeing the person, only the label they have. By teaching about kindness and to embrace our own unique qualities, hopefully we can push past the labels and see each other for who we are.”

Brooke has also volunteered throughout her community of Lindsay, Nebraska and beyond, raising money for Children’s Miracle Network hospitals and other local causes, even hosting a fundraising princess party, allowing little girls to connect with the women making such a profound difference in our state.

“We live in a world where we need outstanding leaders, advocates, and strong women to raise up a generation to reach their full potential,” said Brooke. “The State of Nebraska cultivates the morals of these extraordinary individuals and the Miss Nebraska Organization gives them a platform to showcase these qualities. It is also fun seeing [little girls’] eyes get so wide when they see the crown, or when I put it on their heads! Who knows, maybe I am crowning the future Miss Nebraska 2030!”

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And if Brooke is crowned Miss Nebraska 2018, she’s got big plans for her year of service. Her goals include sharing stories of people like Temple Grandin, a pioneer for anyone touched by Autism, showing that ANYONE can do ANYTHING. Brooke also aims to make sure everyone, especially our elected leaders at the state and national level, are listening.

Jesus

When I told my husband about Jesus and his story, I realized that part of why I am so excited for people to see this is because it’s bigger than this little boy, or his school or our district. It’s about teaching people that we all have a gift within us. Think about it – what do you hope is the first thing people say about you when your name is mentioned? I’m thoroughly flattered and humbled when people comment on my speaking, writing, or singing.. and I’m eternally grateful God gave me a voice. That is what I want to be known for – the things I think make me special.

I would argue Jesus and his family, and any person facing a challenge in life, doesn’t want to be known for that diagnosis. And I hope when people see Camila’s story, they won’t be talking about ‘that boy with autism’, but the kid at Westbrook with an INCREDIBLE gift, and the people around him with exceptional gifts of their own.

Brooke Lodl is working for that every day. And as much as I’m sure she would love to be known as Miss Nebraska, I would argue she wants even more to be remembered as a woman who made a difference for both people with special needs, and that mission to improve how we all view each other.

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“This is such a blessing,” said Brooke. “I want to remember every moment and use it as another opportunity to advocate for my platform.”

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To follow Miss Heartland Brooke Lodl, click here.

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The Miss Nebraska Scholarship Competition takes place June 7-9 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Facebook

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Carsyn Long

NEXT.. Miss Panhandle 2018 Emily Curtis

Edge Of Glory

Every time I begin writing an article featuring a Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen titleholder, I scroll through our conversation and their photos. I look not only at their words and pictures, but their faces and body language within those images. Are they engaged? What did they say about their experiences? How often are they serving as their community’s local titleholder?

When it comes to Miss Omaha’s Outstanding Teen Phoenix Stanford, I simply don’t think WordPress has enough space online to share everything she’s doing.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

She is a patriot. She is a community servant. She is a natural performer. She is a proud Nebraskan. She is wise. SHE IS 13. 

When I was crowned Miss Douglas County in October of 2000, former Miss Omaha and Miss Nebraska Jodi Miller-Holen told me, “you do what you want with this title. You can do nothing, and we won’t be happy but that’s your choice, or you can do everything.”

Here’s what Phoenix told me after being crowned Miss Omaha’s Outstanding Teen: “Most teens are not interested in giving up their time and energy for a greater cause. I want to change that. We are the future of America. We will inherit the social issues affecting our parents now. I’m only 13 years old, a freshman in high school. I want to lead by example because if we can motivate teenagers now to be the change, just imagine the great things they will accomplish as civically engaged adults.”

Guys. When I was 13, I sat in my brother’s room for hours playing Nintendo and read Babysitter’s Club books walking home from school.

 

This young lady isn’t just talk, either. Phoenix Stanford is proving herself through action, a tireless civil servant advocating for Children’s Miracle Network, school safety and security, sexual assault awareness and women’s rights, world health causes, Autism awareness.. and for several years now, support for military families.

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“I have been a military brat my entire life and to me civilians don’t completely understand the sacrifices made by military families,” said Phoenix. “It’s not easy being a military child. Deployments and relocations not only affect their academic success, but their social and mental well-being are affected. These kids are at risk for depression and anxiety. I get involved with Offutt Air Force Base’s events that are designed to boost family morale. I help raise scholarship money for military dependents, I’ve testified for a military bill, I’ve collected food for veterans, visited sick veterans at the VA Hospital, talked to schools about the hardships of being a military child, collected books for a free, little library at base housing, helped with Gold Star family events, etc.”

 

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Many of Phoenix’s efforts coincide with the work of the current Miss Nebraska Allison Tietjen, who has spent her year of service advocating for our nation’s past and present military heroes. Much like Allie, Phoenix says she’s deeply impacted by the stories she hears from the very people she’s helping.

“Volunteer work is important to me,” said Phoenix. “While being a titleholder, not only have I found out so much about the world around me but I have found out so much about myself. My title has given me the opportunities to meet and connect with amazing people and hear their uplifting stories. Coming across these people has helped me expand my platform to places I didn’t know it would go. I have come across many different non-profit organizations that I didn’t even know existed. These organizations inspire me to do more.”

Being a titleholder has also provided Phoenix with a way to explore two of her passions: education and singing.

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“So far, I have won five scholarships as a local titleholder,” said Phoenix. “My career goal is to become a professional singer. I am working on getting to my dream college, Juilliard. I not only want to break into the music industry but I want to know exactly what I’m doing, and I want something to fall back on in case things don’t go as planned. Nebraska should care about the Miss Nebraska Outstanding Teen Pageant because it helps shape the future leaders of America. Providing scholarships to well-rounded young women is worth investing in.”

“I have dreamed of performing the most amazing shows for the biggest audiences since I was a little girl,” said Phoenix. “All I have wanted to do is sing and perform my heart out and that is what I intend on doing. Performing gives me a sense of freedom and a power I look for in life. This program has been a blessing and a huge stepping stone for me.”

No surprise then that Phoenix’s female role model comes from the world of music: Lady Gaga.

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“We have one life, so live it regardless of what anyone else says. That is what Lady Gaga has taught me,” said Phoenix. “I also look up to her untouchable music career. She writes the majority of her own music and performs at high profile events. Even if you are not a Gaga fan, you will certainly be entertained by one of her cinematic shows. I praise her amazing work ethic; she is a rolling stone showing no sign of stopping any time soon. It is people like her I admire and dream of being.”

I would argue Lady Gaga has shifted her status from sensation to legacy by ensuring there is substance and meaning behind every song and every performance. Phoenix is already emulating that.. certainly thinking of the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen crown she’ll compete for in 2 weeks, but also using her microphone to make sure people hear and understand things happening in our world. Proof… a message the Miss Nebraska Organization received from Phoenix on March 14, just a few short months after we lost a beloved member of our pageant family, Miss Chadron Kaelia Nelson.

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“Just wanted to let you know that Kaelia won’t be forgotten and people are still fighting for her even on this day,” wrote Phoenix. “Attended the Nebraska State Advocacy day held by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.”

At just 13 years old, Phoenix is now also helping Stomp The Stigma against mental illness, the very personal cause that Kaelia fought so passionately for.

“The biggest issue my generation is facing is suicide,” said Phoenix. “It’s an epidemic that is sweeping the nation. More teens have been diagnosed with mental illness in this generation than ever before. We need to pass Nebraska’s LB998, a collaborative school behavioral and mental health program. We also need to eliminate the stigma of mental illness so teens can comfortably seek help and not feel ashamed of what they are going through.”

Lady Gaga once told a journalist she wrote ‘The Edge of Glory” in about 10 minutes, the same night her grandfather passed away. She told Lisa Capretto, “I started playing and I said to my dad, I said, ‘Don’t be sad. He’s on the edge of the most glorious moment in life, when you realize that you won. I said, ‘Look how much he won at life. He won at love with Grandma, and he’s on the edge of a glorious moment.’”

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Look at the women in these articles. Look at Phoenix Stanford. Look at how much they are winning at life. At 24, 17, even 13 years old, they are using every moment they are given, feeling the rush, and pushing themselves to the edge.

Who are you, and in this one, beautiful life you have.. where are you?

“I try to focus on performing at the best of my abilities,” said Phoenix. “If I know I did my best, then I will be content with whatever I leave with. That, to me, is still success.”

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To follow Miss Omaha’s Outstanding Teen Phoenix Stanford, click here.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT SHELBY?

CLICK HERE * 2017 * Just The Way You Are

For more information about the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program or to become a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook, or CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Twitter. You can also contact Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com or Director Kali Tripp at KaliNicoleTV@gmail.com.

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Competition takes place April 28 in North Omaha, Nebraska.

PREVIOUS.. Miss Sandhills’ Outstanding Teen Olivia Terwey

NEXT.. Miss Gering’s Outstanding Teen Jadyn Wetherington